So yesterday, out went a press notice from the Vancouver Canadians media office, announcing that the following day, the team would be ‘recreating’ Jeff Francis’ UBC Thunderbirds locker at Nat Bailey Stadium. The media, if they so desired, could come and take pictures.
Now, for the layman, that sounds about as exciting as watching the Minnesota Wild do defensive drills. It sounds as entertaining as watching Ben Mulroney talking about himself. It sounds as thrilling as a jumping castle with a slow leak.
But that’s why you’re the layman and Rob Fai is a media darling.
See, if you cover sport in Vancouver on a day like today, what are you going to do for a story? The Canucks aren’t playing, the Lions aren’t playing, there’s no ballgame, no NFL… it’s a dead day.
And when you’re sitting there scratching your head, dying for something - anything - to take a camera to, so as to keep the boss off your ass, well a nice little photo op, complete with a few of Jeff Francis’ old teammates for quotes, well, that’s just manna from heaven.
And they did flock. 14 separate media outlets in all jammed into the long emptied Vancouver Canadians/UBC clubhouse to take pictures of a shirt. That’s basically every media outlet in the city; radio, TV and print.
I tell you no lie, tonight as the missus was getting ready to watch her Coronation Street, she flicked through the stations, and on three of them, all at the same time, there was the C’s clubhouse, bold as brass.
Now, to be sure, there will be no tickets sold this day as a result of the morass of media. Things just don’t work out that way, and that’s why the old ownership couldn’t get the press office staff off the payroll quickly enough at the end of each season, but what they didn’t get way back then (and what most sporting organizations don’t get, to be honest) is that marketing isn’t about selling a ticket today.
It’s about building a brand. It’s about building awareness, and reminding the press that The Nat exists, and, "Yes, it DOES look wonderful now that it’s been all painted, doesn’t it? Here, have a beer and a media guide."
It’s about getting people watching TV to remember there’s a ballpark in Vancouver, and a ballteam to go with it. It’s about getting people to UBC baseball games when their season begins. It’s about making sure people are watching Jeff Francis throw in the World Series on Wednesday night, and thinking, "He’s a local kid. Wonder what other local kids we might have missed at The Nat this season?"
When Coca-Cola puts up a billboard, they know it won’t sell one single bottle of pop. Nobody will look at that sign and think "must buy a Coke right now" - ever. But if they put up enough of them, and keep the brand in your face, when you feel thirsty, what are you going to pick up?
Rob Fai, and the Vancouver Canadians management and ownership team, understand this concept, and they are playing it brilliantly.
And maybe, just maybe, if more Canadian sporting organizations played for the long term, instead of the short, we might have fewer articles like this one in circulation:
Once, near the beginning of the current century, there were sixprofessional baseball teams in Canada at the triple-A level or higher,as of Opening Day 2008 there will be just one. We all know whathappened to Les Expos de Montr?al, who bolted French-speakingCanada after the 2004 season to become the Washington Nationals. Butdid you know that Canada has also lost four high-level minor leaguefranchises? The triple-A Vancouver Canadians, Edmonton Trappers,Calgary Cannons and Ottawa Lynx have all left Canada for the UnitedStates in the last 15 years.
It left me wondering, while thepro ranks have diminished, what is the state of the game itself up inCanada? Do they even still play it up there? Or is the country sohockey mad that they a) haven’t really noticed that all the probaseball teams have gone south and b) don’t play much baseball on theyouth level any more?
It’s a great article. But it’s sad that it should ever have to be written.